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Resolving Relationship Conflict Effectively

July 1, 2011

“You were so hard on your ex-boyfriend. Every tiny little thing that he did wrong, you’d just bring the book down on his head. Hard.”

That was something my brother said to me about one of my previous relationships. It has stuck in my head ever since. Of course, I didn’t see it that way at the time. In my eyes, if I was bringing the book down on someone’s head than I had a damn good reason for it. And if I had to bring it down often, then the boy in question obviously had some serious shaping up to do!

While our sensitive little egos and feelings would love to take all the blame in an argument and dump it on our partners, the reality of the situation is not that simple.

Relationships are tough work, and making a relationship successful is one of life’s biggest challenges. Your partner is the person who knows more about you than anyone. When they hurt you, break your trust, act carelessly, or are simply human and make a mistake, it hurts so much more than when anyone else does it.

Regardless of your anger or hurt feelings, being overly harsh on your partner and forcing them into the “YOU’RE WRONG!” corner is not the best way to deal with a relationship conflict. It’s a win-lose approach. The only way that you’re going to feel good resolving a conflict with that mindset is if they admit fault. Sure, your partner may admit fault just to keep the peace, and submission on either side once or twice isn’t going to break your relationship. However, a consistent win-lose approach to conflict resolution builds resentment over the long term because one partner feels as though their feelings are being sidelined. It also ignores the fact that there are two people in the relationship who contribute to the outcomes.

Loving another person involves wanting the best for them and caring about their feelings and well-being. A loving, healthy relationship doesn’t have room for one party on a power trip. Relationships that involve arguments with yelling, screaming, name-calling, one party trying to assert dominance over the other, cold-shoulder fights that last for days, or one person trying to corner the other into being “wrong” are headed for trouble. In loving, healthy relationships, both partners need to feel loved, respected, trusted, and important. They both need to feel as though their input matters and that they have a say in the course of the relationship.

Do you care about getting “one-up” on your partner by making yourself right and them wrong, or do you care more about nurturing your relationship by loving and respecting one another?

A better way to resolve conflicts is to genuinely try to understand each other. If you’re feeling upset or frustrated, do something to keep your temper in check before you sit down to discuss your relationship problems. Angry people do not negotiate well, so take a walk, play a video game, or have a coffee with a friend. Do whatever works for you to calm you down. Then listen. I don’t mean sit there with your eyes glazed over until it’s your turn to talk. I mean LISTEN to your partner’s feelings and concerns. They may not rate on the scale of importance to you, but to your partner they may be critical. Ignoring their concerns disrespects your partner and belittles their feelings. That disrespect is a surefire way to build resentment in your relationship and subsequently lowers your partner’s desire to understand you in turn. You owe it to yourself, your partner, and to your relationship to talk the problem through sensibly.

No relationship is perfect. Even the best, most healthy relationships aren’t without problems. It’s how you deal with those problems and treat each other when you’re both upset that determines whether your disagreements will build resentment and tear your relationship apart, or build trust and help it grow stronger.

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2 Responses to “Resolving Relationship Conflict Effectively”

  1. One of the best relationship lessons I’ve learned is to temporarily separate my emotions out of the discussion. When you’re upset and fuming, your judgement is going to be clouded. Before I would take a moment to cool down and get a level head. Eventually after lots of practice, I’ve hit a point where I can be logical and hear the situation clearly and without bias.

    Learn to apologize, listen to your partner’s side, respect their feelings, and communicate openly. 90% of the time, the issue can be resolved quickly and without unnecessary drama.

  2. Yes, listening to each other is so important. Sometimes, there isn’t even much to resolve in the way of disagreements – your partner simply wants to feel heard and understood.

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